Yemen's health system 'has in effect collapsed' as COVID spreads - U.N.

Stephanie Nebehay
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Yemen's health system 'has in effect collapsed' as COVID spreads - U.N.

Man wears a protective face mask outside a shop amid concerns over the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sanaa

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) - The new coronavirus is believed to be spreading throughout Yemen where the health care system "has in effect collapsed", the United Nations said on Friday, appealing for urgent funding.

"Aid agencies in Yemen are operating on the basis that community transmission is taking place across the country," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a Geneva briefing.

"We hear from many of them that Yemen is really on the brink right now. The situation is extremely alarming, they are talking about that the health system has in effect collapsed," he said.

Aid workers report having to turn people away because they do not have enough medical oxygen or sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment, Laerke said.

A flight carrying international aid workers landed in Aden on Thursday as air space opened up for rotations, but Yemeni nationals have been doing most of the on-site work, he said.

The main coronavirus treatment centre in southern Yemen has recorded at least 68 deaths in just over two weeks, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), the medical charity running the site, said on Thursday.

The figure - more than double the toll announced by Yemeni authorities so far - suggested "a wider catastrophe unfolding in the city", MSF said.

War-ravaged Yemen, whose malnourished population has among the world's lowest immunity levels to disease, is divided between the Saudi-backed government based in Aden and its foe, the Iran-aligned Houthi group, in the north.


(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)